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Supreme Court Strikes Down Career Criminal Act

Posted by Seth Chazin | Jul 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

 The justices decided that the wording of the Armed Career Criminal Act that defines what crimes make a defendant eligible for extremely long prison sentences.

The case was appealed by Samuel James Johnson, who pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in 2012, yet he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. 15 years is five more than the designated sentence for such a crime, yet due to prior convictions he was sentenced to a longer prison term.

The court agreed to hear Johnson's case to decide whether his prior conviction for possessing a sawed-off shotgun qualified as a violent felony under the lengthier sentencing law. The law lists arson, burglary, extortion and the use of explosives as crimes that can lead to a longer sentence. The law also pertains to cases that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” Six justices agreed that the phrase is unconstitutional. Justice Scalia said, “[language] so shapeless a provision to condemn someone to prison for 15 years to life” violates the Constitution's guarantee of due process.

The Armed Career Criminal Act makes defendants entitled to longer prison terms if they have three prior convictions for crimes that are either violent felonies or serious drug offenses.

You can read the Supreme Court Decision here: Supreme Court Strikes Down Career Criminal Act

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson